Barry Recap: Knowing Too Much


it takes a psycho
Season 4 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


it takes a psycho
Season 4 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: HBO

If season four of Barry has one issue so far, it’s just how much is crammed into each episode. While Bill Hader’s proclivity for tight, ruthlessly efficient storytelling is mostly an asset on this show, sometimes his more ambitious character arcs could use a little more time to percolate. All of that is truer than ever in “It Takes a Psycho,” an episode that lurches forward in every storyline, racing ahead to a truly wild conclusion. And yet … it’s hard to argue with the result when the lurching is as thrilling and devastating as this.

It helps that while a lot is happening everywhere, a simple structure makes this work well as a suspenseful, self-contained episode. It comes down to a smart trick: Barry doesn’t appear in the episode until the final scene. For most of the run time, we’re left to panic alongside Hank and Gene — and to feel a little bit of dread every time Sally ignores a phone call. Who will he go after first? That’s the terrifying question that keeps this episode going.

Using Barry’s logic, Gene and Hank both make sense as targets: the former tricked him into getting arrested and has been telling Barry’s story as his own, while the latter put a hit on Barry’s life, like, yesterday. Both seem to understand they’re in danger and at least Gene has somewhere to hide away: his cottage at Big Bear Lake, a remote place without internet where he won’t be able to blab to the press. Then again, Barry would know to look here when he didn’t find Gene at home. This was where he killed Janice, and the paranoia that he could do the same to Gene is all too real.

Pure fear comes into play when Gene wakes up to the shadow of a tall man in the porch light. He instinctively shoots through the front door, using the Chekhov’s gun gifted to him by Rip Torn … but it’s not Barry standing on the other side. It was his son Leo, who was coming with food.

Practically everything that happens in this episode, of course, will take on more significance in retrospect after we see that final scene. Gene’s story is a good example: If the second half of the season does indeed pick up almost a decade later, will we meet a Gene who accidentally killed his own son? Typically, I’d assume Leo would survive this, but with that time jump as a cushion, anything feels possible.

Ironically, Fuches might be in the safest spot right now, even though he spends most of this episode getting tortured by the guards and warden for information about Barry’s whereabouts. What he knows, and what we know, of course, is that Fuches wasn’t the one who smuggled the assassins in. He couldn’t tell them where Barry is if he wanted to. But his refusal to rat finally earns him some street cred in the cell block, illustrated in a wordless sequence of his fellow prisoners waiting for him to eat before they dig in.

Can you tell that I’ve been putting off discussing Hank? It’s tough to talk about. His fear of Barry coming to kill him provides a perfect smokescreen for what he’s dreading most: sabotaging Cristobal’s sand operation and killing all their partners. It happens during a day of much-needed R&R for the overworked men. When Hank invites a group of them to a silo to frolic in the newly imported sand, he makes his move: ducking out to remotely trigger the opening at the bottom of the silo, burying the men alive in the span of seconds.

The whole way this sequence goes down is sudden and incredibly disturbing. Hank’s willingness to massacre their partners is itself unnerving, but it’s especially agonizing to see Cristobal accidentally get caught up in it, calling for help as he slowly sinks and goes under. I’m not sure what’s worse: the dead silence of the now empty-looking silo, or the camera moving underground, where we’re forced to listen to Cristobal’s muffled crying and choking in pitch darkness. (Okay, it’s the latter.) In the end, Hank manages to save him, but the disquiet lingers — especially as it sinks in that Hank has allowed the Chechens to kill all the remaining men, too.

We get a longer explanation once Hank and Cristobal are back home. It turns out Hank took Batir’s threat from the last episode seriously; they would’ve been gunned down themselves if they didn’t comply with the Chechens. In Hank’s mind, everything is perfect now: They’ll have Batir and Andrei as silent partners while Hank and Cristobal can run L.A. “As long as you are part of Hank’s family, you are part of ours,” Andrei tells Cristobal, but there’s an implicit threat in that reassurance: If you leave Hank, you’re dead.

We see that awful nightmare scenario play out in the very same scene as it dawns on Cristobal how little he knows his partner anymore. The most chilling line is this: “I feel more like myself than I ever have.” This pivot into full cold-blooded Hank has been a little quick, but all the pieces are there, especially when you think about how Cristobal and Barry have questioned his toughness in these past few episodes. When Cristobal calls him a psychopath now, he points out, “It took a psychopath to save you from your crazy fucking wife.” That really was the catalyzing event here, the moment when Hank realized that “crime utopia” was a pipe dream. Nothing gets done in this line of work without violence. Barry has shown us before that “starting now” doesn’t work.

Cristobal can’t bear to be with this new Hank, so he resolves to leave him immediately, no matter how much Hank tells him he can’t leave him. Anthony Carrigan plays Hank’s backtracking perfectly, like he’ll do and say anything to keep Cristobal from leaving him and dooming himself. But it feels like some part of Cristobal might understand that this is the end, not just of their relationship but his life, and it doesn’t mean he’s going to let a man force him to stay. So we’re left to sit with Hank, crying and panicking on the couch because he knows what’s happening outside. When he finally returns to the front door and sees Cristobal dead on the ground, he can only walk away, completely drained.

This story may happen a bit faster than it should; I might’ve liked to spend at least an episode or two in the new arrangement, with Cristobal a kind of prisoner in his own relationship, deliberating about how to proceed. But it’s gutting to watch, and it didn’t need Barry’s presence to achieve that.

In the end, revenge isn’t top of mind for Barry right now. He’s focused on that fantasy he had in “Bestest Place on Earth”: he and Sally alone together in a new place, growing old together. By the end of the episode, Sally has retreated to that same fantasy, but for a while, she’s in a totally different world. Sian Heder’s Marvel-esque movie Mega Girls is shooting, which means it’s time for her student, Kristen, to prove how much Sally taught her.

Kristen does a decent job with the monologue they practiced … until she stops in the middle of the line, calling “cut” and walking off the sound stage. Sally tries to come to the rescue by making her think of a time she made a sacrifice, but Kristen’s memory of dating a 5’3” guy isn’t enough to put her in that headspace. (Great delivery from Ellyn Jameson of, “That’s really short!” though.) Once Sally has Heder’s attention, she pulls a very Sally move: delivering the monologue to Kristen before turning to the director to perform it herself, shifting from acting teacher to actor mid-speech (and hilariously stepping in front of Kristen to block Heder’s view). She just can’t help herself.

That doesn’t mean she’s prepared to really enter the acting world again, though. Heder’s remark that she wishes she could get that (Sally’s performance) to come out of that (Kristen’s young, conventionally attractive face) might be what seals the deal for Sally: This is a cursed industry, and it’s a fool’s errand to try to make anything happen for yourself without the perfect combination of luck, connections, looks, and natural ability. Having just one or two isn’t enough.

Maybe that’s why she turns down an offer from Kristen’s agent, Mark (Paul McCrane). He’s presenting her with a solid opportunity, and we can see on Sally’s face during the golf cart ride that she’s tempted. But it comes down to how he phrases it: They can work together to find the best roles she’s appropriate for. Sally will likely never again be able to do what she truly wants. She had that opportunity with Joplin, but the vagaries of the streaming economy ended that, and her own increasing megalomania, combined with the unfortunate news about her ex-boyfriend, closed off any potential path back.

Still, she could claw her way to finding something in the industry if she were open to lowering her ambitions. But the news from Kristen about Barry’s escape helps crystallize a suspicion that has likely been on her mind all day on the Mega Girls set: There’s no longer anything for her in Hollywood. What Sally wants now is safety and love, and in her mind, the easiest place to find those is with Barry.

So she compliments Kristen’s work and marches home, where she knows Barry must be waiting. It’s not a surprise when he emerges from the shadows, limping into the harsh overhead light, but it is a surprise when she’s the one to suggest they leave. So we’re teleported to another world: a sprawling, empty plain where a boy named John is fighting with his friend Travis. It reminds us of Barry’s childhood flashbacks from earlier in the season, but this time the kid isn’t Barry; it’s his son. And so years later, in a world much less populated than the City of Angels, the cycle of violence starts anew.

Bullet Points

• From Jim’s police radio: “We aren’t finding any heats on these fools, mostly power cards.”

• Jim doesn’t have much of a role in the episode, besides staking out various locations, often with reluctant cooperation from the police. He doesn’t have any luck, and he leaves Sally’s place without realizing Barry is inside. His best moment is when the chief of police asks him not to kill Barry if he finds him, to which Jim replies, “I can’t promise that.” Fair enough.

• Sian Heder’s cameo might be even funnier to me than Guillermo del Toro’s. Her dismissive, embarrassed attitude about her own movie is just perfect: “I think when people see Mega Girls, they’re going to think, ‘Whoever made that made CODA.’” The most direct analog is probably Chloé Zhao, who followed up her Best Picture-winning Nomadland with Eternals.

• Mark calls Sally “untitled vagina woman,” so it sounds like the “entitled cunt girl” phrasing has gone through a game of telephone.

Barry Recap: Knowing Too Much